Autism initiative fails to get Senate vote

A bill requiring health insurers to cover the condition remains in committee

0 | Child Health, Legislature, Insurance

— An effort to get the Kansas Senate to vote on a House-passed bill that would require health insurance companies to cover autism disorders appears to have run out of gas.

“It’s looks like we’re done for this year,” said Michael Wasmer, a spokesman for the advocacy group, Autism Speaks. “We’re still discussing our options but frankly, it’s probably not going to happen.”

In recent days, Autism Speaks members – almost all of them parents of autistic children - have flooded senators with emails and telephone calls, urging them to support House Bill 2764.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Olson, an Olathe Republican, asked the 40-member Senate to pull the bill out of the chamber's Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, a procedural step that would have allowed a floor vote on the measure.

The motion needed 24 votes. It got 20.

Today, Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican made a motion to reconsider Wednesday's vote.

The measure needed 24 votes. It got 22.

Olson said he would push for a second ‘motion to reconsider’ on Friday, noting that three senators who’d voted for his motion Wednesday had missed the Thursday vote. They were:

• Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat;

• Sen. Ty Masterson, a Wichita Republican;

• Sen. Mark Taddiken, a Clifton Republican.

Sen. Chris Steineger, a Kansas City Republican, voted for the motion Wednesday but passed on Thursday.

The Senate reconvenes at 10 a.m. Friday.

“I knew this was going to be a tough motion,” Olson said, “but I just feel like we shouldn’t be throwing these kids away. Everybody is valuable. If we can help make their lives better, we should do that.”

Olson said he had a cousin who was autistic but is now deceased.

The bill would cap the benefits payable by the companies at $36,000 a year for children under age seven. For children ages seven and older the benefit would be capped at $27,000 per year.

Insurance lobbyists have opposed the bill, calling it as mandate that would increase health care costs and cause insurers to raise premiums.

Wasmer said a recent study showed that when the requirement was applied to the Kansas State Employees Health Plan in 2011, the insurers’ costs increased 14 cents per policyholder per month.

“Clearly, this was not going to be as expensive at the insurance industry said it was going to be,” he said.

Sen. Ruth Teichman, a Stafford Republican and chair of the insurance committee, defended her decision to hold the bill in committee, noting that in 2010 legislators had agreed to apply the requirement to the State Employee Health Plan, measure its effect on premiums, and review the costs in 2013.

“We will be making a decision on this next year,” Teichman said.

Some Senators, she said, voted against Olson and Reitz’s motions because HB 2764 would have added autism coverage to the state’s HealthWave program, which covers children in low- and modest-income families.

“There is uncertainty as to how much that would cost,” Teichman said.

But Wasmer said he saw no reason to wait another year.

“The results aren’t going to change between now and 2013,” he said.

The study, conducted by the state Division of Health Care Finance, found that out of the 23,087 children covered by the State Employee Health Plan, 126 received autism-related care.

“Autism isn’t going away and neither are we,” Wasmer said. “We will continue to fight until the Kansas Legislature does the right thing for our children.”

Wasmer has a daughter who is autistic.

A recent CDC study, found that one in 88 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder.



The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. All News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution, including a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online. An automatically updated feed of headlines and more from KHI can be included on your website using the KHI widget. More about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 233-5443.